Today marks exactly a year since we left our house in town to live in the middle of nowhere with our garden and animals.
I love the long, dark nights of winter, when you can wake up in the middle of the night and feel the quiet emptiness around you, and the soft breath of other beings sleeping. That first night we spent here was one of those nights, the longest, darkest night which ancient people waited through with bated breath, to see if the light would return.
And when we first got here, one of the things we didn’t have yet was light. Ethan had run into town and left us with the chores. He would be back before dark. But the sun set very quickly that evening, the light fading fast, and he still had not returned and we had no way to be in touch with him. Before I knew it, the three children and I were swallowed in darkness, it was pressing in on us, all of us hungry and cold and tired from the work that day. I wasn’t prepared for the darkness that evening. It wasn’t until it was already upon us that I remembered some beeswax and tallow candle stubs we had inside, and hopefully, matches.
The gloaming had fallen heavily, and inside it was darkness as we rarely experience in this age of ubiquitous electric lighting. I awakened all my senses, trying to feel my way through the dark, and still barked my shin on the edge of the wood stove. I groped blindly, realizing I had become disoriented and was not where I thought I was. The darkness felt like an oppressive force bearing down, trapping us, and filling the unfamiliarity of a new place with sudden terror of the unknown. I could hear Clothilde crying in the darkness of the kitchen as my fingers closed around the match box at last, and bumped against the oily candle stubs.
It was easier to find my way out. There were only a few matches left rattling around in the empty box, and they had gotten damp and crumbled against the side of the box instead of lighting.
I will always remember the spark of gladness we all felt when the first match burst into a flame that i held to a hopeless-looking stub of a candle wick. The candle actually lit, a small solstice miracle, as those stubs had been set aside as useless and were saved only to melt down for making other candles. The light of the candle flickered across my children’s faces and our new surroundings. It was still cold enough inside to see my breath, but the light itself – like a gleam of a rainbow on the wick – the light of a thousand summer flowers and grasses, warmed us.